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Full text of "The Confederate States navy yard at Charlotte, N.C., 1862-1865"

Tk CeifeierMe States iafy 



Yard at Clarbtte, i. C 
1862=1 865 



%dJr t a 



1 Notes — This article appeared in the 
' Charlotte News; June 5th, 1910 — im- 
mediately after the unveiling of the 
Kavy Yard Marker. It is re-printed 
by request of many who wish to place 
j this date on file. Hon. Josephus Dan- 
liels, Secretary of the Navy, visited 
jthe site of the Charlotte Navy Yard 
In May 1914 — and this has arroused 
a new and wider interest in its his- 
tory. 

VIOLET G. ALEXANDER. 



The great development of historic 
activity in North Carolina during the 
last few years has been accompanied 
by the ripening of a taste for histori- 
cal research a,nd for the collection of 
matter bearing on county, as well as 
state and national history; and with 
this desire to preserve our county and 
state history has come the patriotic 
desire to mark disK-ric places within 
our own borders^ *j,o that strangers 
and guests in e&ca succeeding gen- 
eration may know the patriotism, 

courage, bravery and true worth 
of North Carolina's sons and daugh- 
ters, from the Colonial, Revolutionary 
and Confederate periods, even down 
to the present day. 

Much of Mecklenburg's and Char- 
lotte's splendid Colonial and Revolu- 
tionary ristory has been preserved 
and some of her historic places of 
those days have been marked, but her 
part in the Southern Confederacy, 
when ous sons and daughters were 
one united people in their sacrifice, 
heroism, bravery and courage, has not 
j received the recognition .due her,— so 
;the Stonewall Jackson Chapter U. D. 
C. through the Interest of one of 
its members, Miss Violet G. Alexander 
has turned its attention to the history 
of the Charlotte Navy Yard, and has 
marked wih, an appropriate iron mark- 
er the site of the Confederate Navy 
Yard, which was established in Char- 
lotte in the spring of 1862 and operat- 
ed until 1S65. The iron marker placed 
'by the Stonewall Jackson Chapter, 
U. p. C, is a navy shield surrounded 
by sea anchors .with this inscription 
in gold letters on a black background: 

"Confederate States Navy Yard, 
Charlotte, N. C. 

1862-1SG5." 



This marker is placed on the corner 
of the brick building of vhe S- A.«-L. 
freight depot, on East Trade street as 
this is the site of the former Navy 
Yard. The ^tablet was designed by a 
committee "appointed by the U. D. C. 
composed of Miss Violet Alexander 
and Mrs. B. D. Heath and it was cast 
and placed by the Mecklenourg Iron 
Works, J. Frank Wilkes, manager. 
The tablet was unveiled by the Stone- 
wall Jtickson U. D. C. on June 3, 1910, 
which is President Jefferson Davis' 
birthdaj- — a day of special veneration 
and observance in the South — Mrs. 
Stonewall Jackson life-president of the 
Chapter, graced the occasion with her 
presence, and large numbers of veter- 
ans of the Mecklenburg Camp of Con- 
federate veterans the Stone- 
: wall Jackson Chapter, U. D. C 
Chapter of Children of Confederacy, 
the stonewall Jackson chapter U. D. C., 
as well as many patriotic citizens 
were present. A splendid program was 
provided, Hon- E. R. Preston made an 
appropriate and patriotic speech — 
"Dixie" and other loved Southern 
songs were sung and prayer and the 
benediction were said. 

Miss Violet Alexander, as 
chairman of the committee appointed 
by the U. D. C. to mark the site of 
the Confederate Navy Yard, deemed 
it advisable to give at this time to 
the general public a complete account 
of the Confedera,te Navy 'Yard at 
Charlotte. In compiling the article, 
she received much valuable aid from i 
many who lived in Charlotte during; 
tha't period, and some of whom wer.4 



1 



associated Mith the Navy Yard during 
its operation in Charlotte. -; 

Mr. , H. Ashton Ramsay, formerly 
officer in charge of the Navy Yard, 
with his residence in Charlotte from 
1862 to 1S65, now figiO") contracting 
manager of the American Bridge 
Company of New York, with headquar- 
ters in Baltimore, Md., has furnished 
the following: 

"Early in May 1862. it was deter- 
mined to evacuate Norfolk and in or- 
der to save some of the tools and 
machinery and to continue to manu- 
facture ordinance for the navy, a 
numbet of the machines, tools, such as 
lathes, plaining machines and one 
small steam hammer, were hurriedly 
shipped to Charlotte, N. C. and Com- 
mander John M- Brooke, who was 
at that time chief of the ordinance 
bureau in Richmond (afterwards trans- 
ferred to the army with rank of colo- 
nel, and after the war was a professor 
at the Virginia Military Institute at 
Lexington, Va., where he died) had 
asigned to him the United States mint 
property on West Trade street, and 
a lot located on and bounded by the 
railroad tracks of what was then 
known as the North Carolina Central 
Railroad and close to the station used, 
by the S.C. Railroad; this latter 
lot extended about 3,000 feet on the 
line of the railroad and faced on a side 
street parallel with the railroad about 
1,000 feet. On tills lot, there was a 
small building, which had been occu- 
pied as k machine shop, and my rec- 
ollection is, that the property was pur- 
chased from Capt. John Wilkes. 

Capt. R. L. Page, afterward General 
Page, was placed in command of the 
works, and had his headquarters, and 
also his residence, at the U. S. Mint 
on West Trade street, where his fam- 
ily lived during his administration of 
the affairs of the Navy Yard. 

"Shortly after the machinery refer- 
der to had been forwarded to Char- 
lotte, N. C, the 'Meirimac-Vlrginia,' 
which had been guarding the ap- 
proaches to Norfolk, Va., had to be 
distroyed, together with other Con- 
federate property at Norfolk, and Capt. 
Catesby, Caipt R. Jones and the writer, 
(H. Ashton Ramsay) who was chief 
engineer of the "Virginia" were order- 
ed to Charlotte, N. C, in connection' 
with constructing the ordinance works. ■ 



Subsequently General Page was trans- 
ferred to the army and ordered-^to the 
.command of Fort Morgan, near Mo- 
bile, Ala., and Capt. Jones was ordered 
to ordnance works at Selma, Ala., leav- 
ing the writer (H. Ashton Ramsay) in 
command of the naval station at Char- 
lotte, N. C. 

A number of large, frame structures 
were erected on the property acquir- 
: ed, including a' gun-carriage shop, a 
laboratory and a torpedo shop, and 
a large forge shop, where the largest 
steam hammer in the South was built, 
and where propeller shafting was 
forged lor all the Confederate iron- 
clads; "The Virginia No. 11" at Rich- 
mond. 'The Albemarle," which suc- 
cesfully rammed and distroyed sev- 
|eral United States gun boats in the 
; Roanoke river; the gun boats built 
in Charleston and Savannah; the 
iron dads, "Tennessee," "Mobile" and 
-other iron dads built at New Orleans; 
in fact none of the vessels could have 
been constructed had it not been for 
I the works at Charlotte. Rifles, solid I 
I shot, shell and torpedoes were manu- 
ifactured at these works in Charlotte! 
|a-nd supplied the batteries of all the' 
[Vessds and shore batteries manned 
by the Confederate navy. 

In the last six months of the war 
when General Stoneman burnt Salis- 
bury, N. C, and was expected to ad- 
vance on Charlotte, the writer (Ram- 
sa.^ ), then in command was furnished 
with 300 muskets and directed to form 
a batalion of three (3) comnanies from 
the employes of the naval works and 
!to ship as many of the naval stores 
and smaller tools as posible on rail- 
road cars to Lincolnton, N. C, and 
to hold the batallion in readiness to 
receive orders froni General Beaure- 
gard, to whom this batallion had been 
asigned. 

After the burning of Columbia, S. C, 
by General Sherman, he advnced to- 
ward Charlotte as far as Chester, S. 
C, but m the meantime, the remnant 
of General Hood's army crossed over 
the country and came into Charlotte 
over the railroad bridge across the 
Catawba river, which we were in- 
structed to plank over so the wagon 
trains could cross. General Johnston 
then assumed command of all the 
forces concentrated at Charlotte and 
immediately transported his troops 
eastward and confronted General 



3 



Sherman at Bentonville, where the 
last battle was fought and the enemy 
checked for the first time since the 
capture of Atlanta, Ga. Soon after tbis, 
President Jefferson Davis and-; his 
cabinet came to Charlotte. N. C, and 
for a few days Charlotte was the cap- i 
ital of the Confederacy. 

Mr. Davis and h-is cabinet started 
from Charlotte soon after the sur- 
render of General Lee, towards Wash- 
ington, Ga., under the escort of Gen- 
eral Wheeler's cavalry and one com- 
pany of the navy yard batallion under 
Capt. Tabb the other companies re- 
maining to garrison Charlotte, and 
were surrendered together with the 
rest of General Johnston's army when 
the army capitulated at Greensboro 
N. C, April, 1865. 

You will note by above, that Char- 
lotte, although several times menaced 
by hostile forces, and at one time the 
central focus of the Confederacy, was 
never actually captured by the enemy, 
their forces not coming into Charlotte 
until after the surrender at Greens- 
boro." » 

' (Signed) H. Ashton RAMSEY, 
Late Chief Engineer, C. S. N. and 

Lieut.-Colonel C. S. A. 
Baltimore, Md-, March 1910, 



Miss Alexander vvas unable to ob- 
tain data concerning Commander John 
M. Brooke referred to by Capt. Ram- 
sey. Mrs. John Wilkes, one of Char- 
lotte's most patriotic and beloved 
women at Miss Alexander's request, 
prepared the . following sketch 
of the Charlotte Navy Yard 
This article was read bv Mrs. Wilkes 
before the U. D. C, of which she was 
one time historian, in April 1910— a 
manuscript copy, is filed with the U. 

i' D. C. Chapter and it appeared in the 
Charlotte Obsehver and The Charlotte 
News, April 3rd, 1910. 
t Mrs. Wilkes' article reads as fol- 
lows: 



The Confederate Navy Yard | 
in Charlotte, N- C, 
1862 1865.' 



"As the existence of a navy yard in 
Charlotte, N. C, has been doubted and 
derided, it is well to tell its story 
while there are some persons surviv 
ing who know of it and worked in 
it. I have found a number of work- 
men and persons, whose memory, has 
aided mine, and here give a true his- 
tory of the Charlotte Navy Yard. 

"Soon after the fight between "the 
Monitor' and 'The Merimas,' it became 
apparent to the Confederate govern- 
ment that it would not be possible to 
hold Norfolk, Va., and the United 
States navy would soon take posses- 
sion of the fort and navy yard. So 
naval officers were sent to the interior 
in the spring of 1862 to select a 
site to which all the valuable movable 
property in the navy yard would be 
taken. They came along the only rail- 
road then far enough inland to be 
safe, and reached Charlotte, N. C, on 
their mission. Both the officers, Capt. 
W. D. Murdaugh and, I think, CaptWm. 
Parker, were aid friends of my hus- 
band, Capt. John Wilkes, during his 
fourteen year's service in the United 
States navy (1841-1854) and of course, 
he met and welcomed them. 

"On talking about their request he 
showed them a place he rad recently 
purchased, lying about 600 feet along 
the railroad with 100 feet frontage on 
East Trade street. This they thought 
exactly suited to the purpose, far 
enough inland to be safe from attack 
by sea and lying on the only rail- 
road which connected Richmond with 
the Southern states of the Confeder- 
acy. So the Confederate government 
bought the property, on promise to pav 
for it. 

"A large quantity of material and 
coke ovens, foundry and machine . 
shops erected. A wooden landing stage 
was built from the yard to the railroad 
for convenience in loading and un- 
loading. This was carried as far as 
the back of the brick building on East 
Trade street, near College street to 
facilitate the movement of naval 
stores and was then and for many 
years afterward called 'The Navy 
Yard wharf." Subsequently it gave 
the name to all the cotton districts 



f 



about College street., ' which has al- 
ways been known even to this day as- 
'The Wharf.' an enduring reminder of 
the navy yard in Charlotte. 7 , 

"No large guns were cast' there,] 
acording to the testimony of Capt 
Aohton Ramsey, who now lives in 
Baltimore and who has given us much 
information on the subject. He told 
of a large trip-hammer, which was 
part of the machinery brought from 
Norfolk and which was a great curi- 
osity here. I well member Capt. Wilkes 
taking me to see it work. With one 
blow it flattened a mass of iron and 
the next the pinderous mass came 
down so gently as only to crack an 
eg-g, placed under it. 

"Many workmen came with the ma- 
chinery from Norfolk and their fami- 
lies are still with us. Some of -"the ; 
names I recall: — ' 

"B. N. Presscn, R. Culpepper, R. W. 
Grimes, H. W. Tatum and many others 
Other men of this vicinity entered the 
yard, Martin Frazier, Thomas Roberts, 
John Garibaldi, John Abernathy, John 
Rigler and many more. 

"When the navy became a thing of 
the, past, many of these staunch and 
good men entered Capt. Wilkes' serv- 
ice in the Mecklenburg Iron Works, 
where they remained until death, or 
forty (40) years afterward. in7890$. . 
infirmity terminated their labors forty 
subject of great gratification to Capt. 
Wilkes that his workmen were so 
long in his service. Many of the above 
list, as well as some excellent colored 
men. v/ere with him until their death, 
and no strikes of discontent ever dis- 
turbed their cordial relations. 

"One small gun was brought 
from Norfolk and passed with other 
material to the Mecklenburg Iron 
Works. For many years it was used in 
the celebrations and parades, but fear- 
ing it might burst and injure some 
one, Captain Wilkes ha4 it broken 
up. 

When Richmond was taken by the 
Federal army Mrs. Jefferson Davis 
and her family were in Charlotte, the 
house on North Brevard street (north- 
east corner) and East Fifth street, 
having been rented for her use. When 
the news reached here the authorities 
prepared to remove the specie from 
the treasury and other valuables sent 
here for safe keeping. Mrs. Davis in- 



sisted on accompanying the train with 
her children and her niece. The men 
at the navy yard were formed into i,. 
company as marines, armed / ' and 
equipped as well as could be and 
ordered out to guard the treasure train. 
Capt. Wri- Parker was in command. 
Just before they left he brought his 
old sword to me, asking me to keep 
it for him, and it still hangs in my 
hall. . 

The train went by rail to Chester, 
S. C, and then took up the march for 
the West. Forty-two (42) wagons with 
fifty-five (.^5) men on guard, carried 
the specie. Mrs. Davis and family 
and the government officials were in 
carriages and on horseback. They 
marched as far as Cokesville a village, 
beyond Augusta, Ga., and then were 
ordered back to Newberry. S. C, where 
the iron-bound boxes of specie were 
put in bank. It was a cold, rainy night 
and Mr. W. S. Culpepper recalls with 
pleasure a gracious act of Mrs. Davis. 
.,He, a young fellow of 17 or 18 years, 
was detailed as guard at the door of 
a little church wlMfe her family was 
spending the night.J^s. Davis came to 
the door, bringing him a glass of wine, 
saying he must be cold and wet, and 
this was all she could do for him. 

The next day the officials wanted to 
pay off the 55 men of the guard with 
pennies, but, remembering the weary 
tramp back to Charlotte the men de- 
clined the offer and nevei- received any 
pay for their labor. i 

A few days later, in April, 1865, Pres- 1 
ident Davis and his cabinet came to 
Charlotte and for a few days this 
was the capital of the Confederate 
States. One of the last declarations 
and cabinet meeting was held iu 
the building now occupied by the Char- 
lotte Observer — then the bank, and 
some of their last acts were sealed and 
signed there. 

I After the news of President Lincoln's 

j assassination was received the govern- 

ment broke u-p and the officers dispcrs- 

• ed. President Davis set out to over- 



'take his family and the sequel is his- 
toric. 

The navy yard was abandoned and 
when the Federal forces marched into 
Charlotte, it Mas taken possession of 
by the United States government as 
was the mint and all the stores of the 
Confederacy. i 

Later, Captain Wilkes was permitted ' 
to repurchase his own property (the. 
Confederacy never having paid him for 
Its use) at a reasonable rate. There 
he established the Mecklenburg Iron; 
Works which occupied the site for! 
10^ years, from April, 1865 to April, I 
1S75. The last > castings were made 
there on the day of our big fire April 
12th, 1875 

(Signed) 

JANE RENWICK WILKES. 

March 1910. (Mrs. Jolin Wilkes.) 



Mr. P. P. Zimmerman of the Meek- 1 
lenburg Iron Works, a "life-time resi., 
dent of Charlotte, and one of her mostf 
honored citizens, gave Miss Alexander! 
invaluable aid in her researches for 
data and furnished her with the fol-| 
lowing list of men who came to Char- 1 
lotte with the removal of the naval 
works from Norfolk. Mrs. Wilkes has 
made mention of some of them and 
paid a fine tribute to their sterling 
worth and fine loyalty. The list of 
names given by Mr. Zimmerman is as 
follows : I 

Ruben Culpepper. i 

W. E. Culpepper. i 

Henry W. Tatum. 

Joshua Sykes. 

Cornelius Myers. 

William Myers. 

William Myers. 

Washington Bright. 

Cope Smith. 

Edward Lewis. 

Isaac Sumner. 

John Davis. 

James Lloyd. 

Clay Guy. ' 

Augustus Tabb. 

Andrew Hoffennagle. 

James Recketts. i 

George W. Thompson, sr. 

Thomas Winfields. 

Charles L. Walker. 

Michael Holey. 

George W. Gleason, jr. 

Thomas Peed. 

Willoughby Butt. 




A. Ei'fwer. 
T. J. Roake jr. 
Robert Culpepper. 
R. M. Grimes. 

B. M. Presson. 
Thomas Dwyer. 
George Dougherty. 
Jerry Nic'aolson. 
Hugh Smith. 
Henry Brown. 
Henry Tucker, 
Henry Goodwin. 
Elias Guy. 
Henry Tabb. 
John Thomas. 
John W. Owens. 
Augustus Recketts. 
George W. Thomas, jr 
Columbus Walker. 
Joshua Hopkins. 
George W. Gleason, or. 
James Peed. 

.John Howards. 

Marcellus Thurma. 

G. J. Rooke, sr. 

Unfortunately, it has been impos-. 
sible to secure a complete roster of I 
the men who came to Charlotte with' 
the naval works, and who served | 
here from 1862 to 1865 part of that 
time as members of the three compa- 
nies of marines. Mr. Zimmerman re- 1 
calls the names of 51 men, all skilled! 
workmen, who came to Charlotte from' 
Norfolk in 1862. There were many! 
others of whom we have no record, 
who either died, returned to Norfolk 
after the war, or moved elsewhere; 
as We learn from Capt. H. Ashton Ram ' 
sey that he was in command of three 
(3) companies organized from the meni 
of this navy yard. j 

Capt. Wm. B. Taylor formerly city 
tax collector, and one of Charlotte's' 
best known veterans, a member of 
the Mecklenburg Camp of Confederate 
Veterans, tells us that Thomas Dwyer, 
who came to Charlotte from Norfolk 
with the navy yard men, invented a 
machine for turning a [:erfect sphere, 
a cannon ball or shell. It was the 
first successful invention of its kind 
and was used in the Charlotte navy 
yard. This valuable invention was 
confiscated by the United States gov-| 
ernmeni and put into use in the Unit-j 
ed States navy yards, no credit or' 
remuneration ever being given to the 
S outh'^rn Inventor. j 



e 



CapCH. Ashton Ramsey was the offi. 
cer in charge of the navy yard and Mr. 
Peters was in charge of the naval 
store located at the corner of East 
Trade street and South College street, 
convenient to the navy yard. Captain 
Richard L. Page was the commandant 
in charge of the entire station, with his 
official residence at the United States 
mint, on W^t Trade street, the latter, 
building having been seized by the 
Confederate forces and was heldhy| 
them until the and of the war. Here 
resid-ed with Captain Page his neice,' 
Miss Edmonia Neilsou who is still i 
living, at present a resident of Norfolk.' 
Miss Alexander had much correspond-, 
ence with Miss Neilson regarding her' 
residence in Charlotte, and she recall- 
ed those stormy days most distinctly, 
and gave many interesting and'fexcit- 
ing episodes. She is indebted to iMss 
Neilson for the fololwing valuable quo- 
tation from "The Confederate States 
Naval History," by Prof. J. Thomas 
Scharf, A. M., L. L. D., who says: 

"General Page entered the United 
States navy as a midshipman in 1824. 
He served the United States ' navy 
until 1861, then a Virginian by birth, 
he. cast his lot with the Confederacy, 
arid entered the Confederate States 
navy, June 10th, 1S61, with commission 
;jpf commander, acting as ordnance offi- 
iier of the Norfolk navy yard until the 
evacuation of that place by the Con- 
federates. After the evacuation ' of 
Norfolk Commander Page was promot- 
ed to the rank of captain, and with 
;;the machinery and men removed from 
the' Norfolk' sbops, established the 
ordnance and construction depot at 
Charlotte, N. C, which, under his ad- 
ministration became of inestimable val 
ue to the Confederacy." 

Miss Alexander has in her possession 
a wooden anchor and also a wooden 
cup, which were turned in the wood- 
working department of Charlotte navy 
yard and presented by Captain Page 
to her aunt Miss M. Sophie Alexau 
der, on one occasion when he was 
showing a party of ladies through thu 
navy yard. The naval officers station- 
ed in in Charlotte from 1862-1865 were 
highly educated and cultured men and 
i they, Nvith their families, received 
' much social attention from the resi- 
(ients of the town. 



The present owners ' of this historic 
naval site, the S. A. L. railroad' .\Ver'-; 
ccmmunicated with and permission 
was asked by the Stonewall Jackson 
Chapter, U. D. C. to place the marker. 
The following reply was received: 

"I have no objection to the Stone- 
wall Jackson Chapter, U. D. C. erect- 
ing an iron tablet either at our freight 
depot building, at Charlotte, N. C. or 
in the yard near, the siilewlak referred 
to in your letter, the understanding be- 
ing that should the property ever pass 
cut of the hands of the Seaboard Air 
Line railway, that your chapter have 
the privilege of removing the marker, 
if so desired. 

"Before putting it i:p I would sug- 
gest that you tak^ the matter up with 
our Charlotte agent, Mr. W. S. Bradley. 
Yours very truly, 

(Signed) "C. H. HIX, 

"V.-P. & G. M:, S. A. L. Ry. 
''Portsmouth, Va. March 24, 1910." 

Mr. W. S. Bradley, Charlotte agent 
of the S. A. L. railway, kindly ac- 
fjuiesced and assisted ihe U. D. C. in 
;ocating the marker on the northwest 
Lorner of the large brick building of 
the S. A. L, freight depot, facing East 
Trade street. It is frequently visited 
by strangers in our city who for the 
first time have heard of the Charlotte 
navy yard — thus the marker is serv- 
ing its purpose of preserving history 
and instructing our youth and visi- 
tors in the remarkable fact, which is 
strangely unique_ that our inland 
•Queen City'' had a navy yard from 
1862-1865. 



Compiled and written by 

» VIOLET G. ALEXANDER. 
Charlotte, N. C, June 3, 1910.